This article by Liam Murphy @liamwaterloo first appeared in FS Magazine, a publication of GMFA here.
Long-term love can be elusive to many gay men. It’s a common perception (perhaps misperception) that we find it harder than most, and when we see those who actually do find it, we openly sneer at their happiness (I say ‘we’, I mostly mean ‘me’). Without the confines of a ‘heteronormative’ life goal, does our level of commitment to commitment diminish? Do we have too much choice when it comes to the buffet of sexy men out there? Or are we simply slaves to the often cruel lottery of love?
There are people out there who have never enjoyed/suffered/endured a long-term relationship (you can pick whichever one best describes your wonderful/hellish/exhausting experience), but that doesn’t mean that they’ve never laid with another man, or dated one.
“I’m always on dates,” explains 24-year-old Will. “I’d say that over the past year I’ve averaged about three dates a week with different guys. It didn’t start out as trying to meet ‘the one’, it was just a good way of getting to know new people when I first moved to London. I’d go out for drinks with random men, have a laugh, maybe get laid but it never went further than that.”
After a while it started to bother Will that he didn’t make any long-lasting connections. “I’m worried that I’ve never really gone beyond a fourth date. I don’t have trouble meeting men, but it’s starting to get a bit depressing that it’s nothing more – either I get bored or they’re not interested. That’s why I’ve taken a break from meeting anyone new. I think the dates started to become a habit rather than something I really wanted to do.”
Being a date-a-holic is something that 42-year-old Roberto from Brighton knows a lot about. “I think I dated every gay man in my town during my 20s and 30s,” he laughs. “I had the best time and some amazing flings but I never really found anyone I wanted to spend lots of time with. It’s only recently that I’ve started to think ‘oh, I’m by myself’ because all my friends have settled down. The thing is, I don’t want to settle down yet! The idea of sharing a pizza annoys me. I could never imagine sharing a flat!”
Does Roberto think he’ll ever want a boyfriend? “Oh, absolutely. I know I’m 42 but there’s no rush in my eyes. If it happens, it happens. I can be settled when I’m 52. I think the best thing you can do is slow down when it comes to dating. I’m very selective now with who I spend quality time with. I won’t just go for a drink with any guy, and since I’ve been a bit more ‘selective’ I’ve met some great people. At the very least, I’ve made new friends.”
“Guys who go on lots of dates but never seem to find someone to settle down with might find it helpful to stop and ask themselves if there might be a more subconscious agenda at play,” advises Andre Smith, a counsellor for Positive East. “For some people, the ongoing thrill of a new date, a new person, and the potential for new sex is more exciting than the idea of having a relationship with someone. It’s also worth looking at our levels of expectation. Very often people project their own fantasised ideas of perfection on to the guys they agree to meet for dates and invariably then feel disappointed when the date doesn’t live up to the way they have imagined. The white knight syndrome comes to mind!”
Desperately seeking something
It sounds like a cliché, but sometimes the biggest barrier to finding a relationship can be the trying to find it part. That’s not to say that getting out there and dating is detrimental to gaining long-term bliss, but sometimes you can be so busy looking that you forget to glance up and see what’s in front of you. Come to think of it, that is a cliché BUT IT’S TRUE SO SHUT UP.
“That’s exactly what happened to me,” admits 38-year-old Drew. “I’ve spent so much time looking for love – actually, not even love, more companionship – that I’m sure I’ve let a few really great guys slip through the net. I’ve called it a day with loads of guys that I thought lacked ‘relationship potential’ but looking back, I can’t see why I did it. I think maybe I was always looking for something more or something better.”
Drew believes that taking a step back from intently looking for a boyfriend can actually make finding someone easier. “A very good friend of mine gave me that advice and I took a sabbatical from dating. I can happily report that I now have a boyfriend! It’s been two months so far so I’m not getting married or anything but it’s been my longest relationship to date!”
25-year-old James admits that he’s tried various methods to find a boyfriend. “I’ve tried speed dating, apps, pulling when I’m out, networking events. I’ve tried them all, and I’m still single.” James does think he’s figured out what’s stopping him finding a partner, “I’m looking so hard for it and it’s definitely what I want, yet I tend to disregard the norms of society, which may also make me a difficult person to be with. I see my friends becoming older and starting to marry, get mortgages, and have children. Part of me is curious and slightly envious. But I don’t think that’s to do with social norms, I think it’s more that I’m looking for stability in my life these days.”
Positive East’s Andre Smith thinks that we need to be aware of the signals we give off. “Looking too hard for a relationship can sometimes give us an air of desperation that is usually, even if subtly, picked up by would-be partners. When the focus on finding a partner becomes unbalanced, it can start to separate us from our instincts about the suitability of potential partners and results us making bad choices that never work out. Our behaviour changes, we are less relaxed and present ourselves in a way that we think the potential partner will respond to.”
The app block
Choice is great – just look at how many different versions of a Cadbury bar you can get now. The same can be said for gay dating apps; they provide you with a selection box of cream-filled hotties. But has the sheer volume of men available at your fingertips made it harder to settle down – is there just too much choice?
“For me, the theory was that apps should make it easier,” explains Damon, 36, “but most of the apps are sex-focused which is probably a natural consequence of the ‘hyper-male’ attitude of the environment. I do find it easier to talk to people online, to break the ice, but then conversations tend to tail off. I’m always the person who initiates contact with people, who has to fight to keep conversations alive and that’s even with the people who can manage to string sentences together. Most won’t think to talk to me unless I restart the conversation again, but that’s the same with most of my friends. It’s easy to eliminate people online. If they can’t be bothered to write sentences or show any kind of interest then I get bored quickly.”
23-year-old Darren thinks it’s too easy to blame apps for the downfall of modern relationships. “It does annoy me when people blame things like Grindr for ruining relationships. I understand that some people want casual sex over dates but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be used for dating. A few of my friends met their boyfriends using apps and websites, and they’ve been together for years. I think it’s down to how you use them. If your profile pic is a shirtless selfie, maybe that gives the wrong impression. It takes time, but you can sniff out the genuine guys out there. It’s great for me because I can’t afford to go out on the town every night to meet new men!”
“The reality of these types of apps is more about instant, no-strings, hook-ups – which is fine for those guys who are clear about what they want,” explains Andre. “Apps are also very addictive because of the virtually instant opportunity they offer. I’ve worked, therapeutically, with countless numbers of guys who quickly find themselves addicted to the app, but who are also conflicted. Deep down, they want a loving one-to-one relationship, but can’t at the same time imagine giving up the easy access to sex that the apps enable. Apps have largely sterilised, and even de-humanised the way a considerable number of gay men now approach dating and romance.”
The serial monogamists
Sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing. There are some men who find the love of their life. Every time they start dating someone. These monogamaniacs can’t seem to go a month without declaring devotion to their latest squeeze, even if they’ve only known them for a matter of days.
“I admit it – I used to be one of ‘those’ guys,” confesses 35-year-old Patrick. “I’d jump from boyfriend to boyfriend. I’d break up with one and move straight on to another. I never really liked being alone and I was never short of guys wanting to date me, so I just fell into it. It used to really piss my friends off and I lost touch with a lot of people, which I think just made me need a boyfriend more.”
Patrick thinks that, despite all the boyfriends he’s had, he’s never experienced a true relationship. “There are a lot of blokes like me who can’t seem to be alone and I’d guess they’ve never really been in an authentic relationship. My longest has been four months and the rest a lot less, but I called them all boyfriends. I’m not sure you can ever really get to know someone properly in that time.” Fear of pain and rejection is what drives some men to hop on and off the boyfriend train, according to Andre. “Guys who jump from boyfriend to boyfriend without ever forming a true connection, are, in my experience of working with them, usually afraid of getting hurt and thus jump ship before any chance of having to endure the pain of break-up or rejection. All relationships come with risk, especially new ones, and while it’s important to be aware of the fact that we might potentially get hurt, that shouldn’t stop us from fully embracing each new story. We learn about ourselves as much through relationships as we do when we are on our own.”
Sink the relation-ship
“Relationships can fuck off,” says a very straight-faced 28-year-old Gavin. “I get so frustrated with my friends because the only thing they’re interested in is dating and finding a boyfriend. We never just hang out as mates, whatever we do has to revolve around meeting men. I think I’d respect it more if they were just looking to get sex but I find it a bit pathetic that they need someone to complete them. I’m so happy by myself – I can do what I want, when I want without being tied down. To be honest, most people I see in relationships seem to be miserable.”
42-year-old Roberto agrees, in a less extreme fashion. “I really do like being by myself. Finding someone to share my life is not a need that drives me. I like being alone and I enjoy my own company. The biggest thing stopping me going after a long-term boyfriend, is the thought of sharing my space. I love living alone and the freedom it brings. I can’t imagine living with someone else – it’d feel claustrophobic. I don’t even like having friends stay in my flat!”
Not everyone wants a relationship, and it certainly shouldn’t be an all-consuming life goal. What we should remember is that, yes, relationships can be fantastic and enriching, but it’s also worth remembering that they can suck you into a hell-like abyss when they’re bad. Don’t just jump into a suburban, two cats, posh coffee machine and Apple TV bed with someone just for the sake of wanting to be in a relationship. Take your time, meet lots of people, and happiness, over time, should ensue.
How to negotiate safer sex on a first date
Let’s be honest here, having sex on the first date is a pretty common thing for most gay men. You meet, have a few drinks and before you know it, you’re back at his place and wham, bam thank you, Sam. But how should you negotiate sex on a first date?
Is it rude to ask someone their HIV status?
Absolutely not! It’s not rude to ask anyone their status. Assuming someone’s status is the worst thing you can do. However, even if he tells you that he’s HIV-negative it doesn’t mean that he is.
- In 2012, over 3,250 gay men were diagnosed as HIV-positive in the UK.
- It’s estimated that 18% of gay men who have the virus don’t know they actually have it.
- Around 80% of new infections come from having unsafe sex with men who don’t know they have HIV.
Can I have sex with someone who is HIV-positive?
Yes, you can. Someone who is HIV-positive and is on medication, and has an undetectable viral load, is very unlikely to pass on the virus to you. This is because the medication that he is on decreases the amount of HIV in his body. It doesn’t mean that he can’t pass on the virus but the risk is small.
The best way to date and shag is to:
- Always use condoms with a new partner, whether they tell you they are HIV-negative or not.
- Never assume someone is either HIV-positive or HIV-negative.
- Get tested regularly for HIV and STIs. You don’t want to meet a guy, fall in love and then find out you’ve given him gonorrhoea.
For more info on sex and sexual health, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/sex